Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Media Watchdog Let Loose on Cyberspace

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Media Watchdog Let Loose on Cyberspace

Article excerpt

Computer hackers and sloppy cyberjournalists beware: There's a new media watchdog gearing up to cast a critical eye your way.

For decades, the transgressions of American journalism have been chronicled by the Columbia Journalism Review and legendary press critics like George Seldes and A.J. Liebling.

It was probably just a matter of time before the Internet got a watchdog of its own. On March 2 a small group of journalists and graduate students in Los Angeles launched OJR, the Online Journalism Review (www.ojr.org). The e-zine is published at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. "What the Columbia Journalism Review has done for the media world is what we hope the Online Journalism Review will do for the online world," says Geoffrey Cowan, the newly minted dean of the Annenberg School and OJR's publisher. Mr. Cowan should know: His father, Louis Cowan, co-founded the Columbia Journalism Review. OJR staffers believe that journalists in cyberspace should follow the same rules of fairness, accuracy, and independence journalists in print and broadcast media follow. "We see our role as applying those rules and finding out who deserves to be in the penalty box," notes OJR's mission statement. OJR is published as part of the Annenberg school's online journalism program, operating in a newsroom lab teeming with graduate students banging-out copy on 23 computer terminals. "The goal is to be thought-provoking, not just another dull journal," says Larry Pryor, who managed the Los Angeles Times Web site and is OJR's executive editor. So far, Mr. Pryor has made good on that objective. In its first edition, OJR surveyed the state of online news in Nepal. Last month OJR profiled "Hip Mama," a Web site produced by a former welfare mother. Also in May, the review included an opinion piece on the Internet news industry by Ken Layne, editor of the notorious gossip site, tabloid.com. Monitoring content in cyberspace may seem a Sisyphean challenge. An estimated 3,000 new sites appear each day on the Web. Search- engine sites such as Yahoo!, Excite, and Netscape have become major news providers. So have thousands of e-zines like Wired, ZDNet, and CNET. But Pryor says OJR's editorial agenda will be selective, not comprehensive. "We're not human search engines," he jokes. "We rely on our fellow Web denizens to guide us to where we should be looking. We get 20 to 30 e-mails a day suggesting articles we should write or stories we should look into." One issue OJR will tackle is whether the business and editorial sides of Internet sites are becoming too close for comfort. "Web sites are often so underfunded that the only way they survive is to blur the lines between their advertising and editorial sections," Pryor says. …

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